If 'knot now' when? The impact of delayed marriage among 20-somethings

By Meg McDonnell

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, April 9 2013 6:35 p.m. MDT


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Michelle was 22 when she found herself pregnant. She was in a committed relationship with all signs pointing to marriage, she says, but since she had just completed college, with ambitious career plans for her future, children weren’t on the horizon yet.

“Although I did want a baby with my now-husband (even at the young age of 22), I was devastated because I felt like my life was ruined,” she writes in a blog post. “Everything I wanted to accomplish — everything I wanted to be — was now gone. And I didn’t get this from my own head — I got it from friends, family, TV, movies and complete strangers.”

Most young adults are putting off starting a family in their 20s, she notes, and the cultural expectations surrounding delayed marriage aided in the initial devastation that surrounded Michelle’s pregnancy.

“My body felt ready, but my brain didn’t,” she elaborates. And though she went on to marry the father of her child and raise their now 4-year-old son, her decision was not made without a lot of anxiety and despair.

”I do wish that someone would have told me that my life wouldn’t be ruined. That I could go on to have a successful career, a happy marriage and a fulfilling life,” she lamented. “I wish someone had told me that choosing earlier-than-expected pregnancy isn’t a tragedy, but just a different lifestyle decision. I wish someone would have told me that a 22-year-old mother can be the best kind of mother.”

Michelle’s story of her unplanned and unmarried 20-something pregnancy is not that uncommon, though her success in achieving a happy balance between marriage, family and career may be.

A new report, co-authored by Kay Hymowitz, Jason Carroll, W. Bradford Wilcox and Kelleen Kaye, and co-sponsored by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, The Relate Institute and the National Marriage Project shows us the new face of unmarried motherhood: 20-something women.

According to the report, titled “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America,” unmarried 20-something mothers are more common than teen mothers. “By age 25, 44 percent of women have had a baby, while only 38 percent have married,” the report details. “By the time they turn 30, about two-thirds of American women have had a baby, typically out of wedlock. Overall, 48 percent of first births are to unmarried women, most of them in their twenties.”

Among women with college degrees, 12 percent of first births are to unmarried women. However, for those with less than college degrees, the percentages are much higher.

Among those women with high school degrees and perhaps some college education, 58 percent of first births are to unmarried women. Among high school dropouts, 83 percent of firstborn children are born to unmarried women. For these women, an economic recession and a struggling job market have already hindered upward mobility, but out-of-wedlock childrearing only further reduces chances of prosperity and flourishing.

But much like Michelle, many of these young adults are torn by the tension of their desire to have a child with the seemingly bad timing or situation of their pregnancy. In fact, according to the Knot Yet report, “roughly half of unmarried young adults ... said they would like to have a baby now if things were different (53 percent of men and 47 percent of women), and even among those who said it was important to avoid pregnancy right now, over a third went on to say they would be happy if they got pregnant.”

“Not surprisingly,” the report continues, “this ambivalence rises as education levels, marriage prospects and job opportunities fall.”

The Harms of Delayed Marriage for Children

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